Green Energy Policies raise the Cost of Heating this Winter in the UK

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 19th, 2013

Week in Review

You can either fight ‘manmade’ global warming or you can have low energy prices.  But you can’t have both (see British Gas to raise prices by 9.2% posted 10/17/2013 on BBC News Business).

British Gas is to increase prices for domestic customers, with a dual-fuel bill going up by 9.2% from 23 November.

The increase, which will affect nearly eight million households in the UK, includes an 8.4% rise in gas prices and a 10.4% increase in electricity prices.

The company said it “understands the frustration” of prices rising faster than incomes. The average annual household bill will go up by £123 [$198.89]…

The company said that the cost of buying energy on the global markets, delivering gas and electricity to customers’ homes, and the government’s “green” levies, were all factors in the decision to put up prices.

With a focus on renewables we bring fewer fossil fuels to market.  Coal, oil and natural gas.  And with the war against clean nuclear power we’re shutting down our reactors.  So instead we focus on the more costly wind and solar power.  Because it takes a lot more costly infrastructure to capture the ‘free’ energy from the sun and the wind.  So much that the taxpayer has to subsidize them.  To bring us that ‘free’ energy.  When the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, that is.  Which brings us to that costly distribution system.

People can put solar arrays on their home to use that ‘free’ solar power during sunny days.  But what about cloudy days?  And night?  Wind farms can generate ‘free’ wind power when the winds are blowing right.  But what about when they are not blowing right?  Either too fast?  Too slow?  Or not at all?  What then?  Fossil fuels.  That’s what.

Baseload power (typically coal that takes hours to bring on line) is a funny thing.  To be cost effective power plants run at full capacity 24/7.  When demand rises they can bring on some ‘peaker’ units (typically gas that are quick to bring on line) to add additional capacity.  So power companies have to maintain baseload power even if the people aren’t buying any to be available when solar and wind aren’t.  And if all the homes disconnected from the grid and ran on solar power during the day the power companies would still have to keep them physically connected to the grid.  So these homes can use their power at night.

This is why energy prices are rising.  Revenue at power companies are falling due to that ‘free’ wind and solar power while their expenses are not.  And because they are selling to fewer customers they have to charge them more to cover their expenses.

Affordable energy for the people lies with fossil fuels.  Not renewables.  Governments have to choose.  All the people.  Or their liberal base.  Less costly power from fossil fuels.  Or more costly power from renewables.  It’s that easy.  For you can fight ‘manmade’ global warming or you can have low energy prices.  You just can’t have both.

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Spain’s Massive Investment in Solar Power has Greatly increased the Cost of their Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 24th, 2013

Week in Review

People think renewable energy is the answer to all our energy problems.  But that isn’t quite so.  In fact, all it does is increase the cost of our electric power.  For sunshine and wind may be free.  But the equipment to harness the energy in sunshine and wind is not free.  It is very, very expensive.  And you need a lot of it.  You will not see one wind turbine service the power needs of one metropolitan area.  You may see a wind farm providing a small percentage of the electric power needs of a large metropolitan area.  And only when the wind blows.

Wind can blow day or night.  But it can also NOT blow day and night.  While solar panels will not work at all at night.  So you have massive investments to install renewable energy generation capacity.  And there will be times when they will provide no power.  So what do you do?  What do you do when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?  You turn to old reliable.  The electric grid.

This is why renewable energy is so costly.  It cannot replace our fossil-fuel power plants that can provide reliable power day or night in any type of weather.  It can only supplement what we call our baseload power.  Like our beloved coal-fired power plants.  One of the most cost-efficient ways to produce reliable electric power.  Which the power companies have to still run and maintain day and night.  For those who don’t have a wind turbine or a solar array providing their electric power.  And to light up the night.  So instead of one cost-efficient power generation system we have two systems.  One cost-efficient and one cost-inefficient.  And those who invested heavily into renewable energy are now having to deal with these very real problems (see Out Of Ideas And In Debt, Spain Sets Sights On Taxing The Sun by Kelly Phillips Erb posted 8/19/2013 on Forbes).

With so much sunshine at its disposal, Spain has aggressively pursued the development of solar energy: over the past ten years, the government has made significant advances in pressing solar energy and is one of the top countries in the world with respect to installed photovoltaic (PV) solar energy capacity.

It might, however, be too much of a good thing. Spain is generating so much solar power, according to its government, that production capacity exceeds demand by more than 60%. That imbalance has created a problem for the government which now finds itself in debt to producers. And not by a little bit. The debt is said to have grown to nearly 26 billion euros ($34.73 billion U.S.).

So how do you get out of that kind of debt? You propose incredibly onerous taxes and fines, of course. And you do it on exactly the behavior that you encouraged in the first place: the use of solar energy panels. That’s right. Spain is now attempting to scale back the use of solar panels – the use of which they have encouraged and subsidized over the last decade – by imposing a tax on those who use the panels…

…many residents in Spain generate enough electricity from solar that they get paid to selling the excess energy back to producers. This, it turns out, is a problem. The government is putting a stop to that, too: as part of the reform efforts (read: desperate measures), there will be a prohibition on selling extra energy.

If the power companies are providing all the power at night they have to maintain their power plants.  And their power distribution system.  Which means they even have to trim the trees away from their overhead power lines from people who use solar power during the day.  Nothing changes for the power companies.  Except that they can’t sell as much power as they once did.  So their costs of producing power remain the same.  But their revenue has fallen.  Forcing them to operate at a loss.  Or find other ways to replace their lost revenue.  Which they have to.  Because they must have the same capacity available during the day that they have at night.  Even if they aren’t selling as much power during the day as they are at night.  And the last thing they want to do is buy excess power back from homeowners with solar panels on their house when they’re producing their own power that they can’t sell.

Baseload power plants like coal and nuclear take time to bring on line.  They have to produce the heat that boils water into steam.  Then superheat the steam to remove all water from it.  So the steam can spin the generator turbines without damaging the vanes on the turbine.  And once they start these plants up they run these systems at full capacity where they produce power most cost-efficiently.  During peak demand they may bring on some gas-fired turbines that can start and produce power quickly.  And add them to the grid.  When the peak subsides they can shut down these gas-fired turbines and let the baseload generation carry the remaining load.

The Spanish government invested heavily into solar power for whatever reason.  It’s ‘free’ power.  It’s ‘clean’ power.  Or it was just a good way to create a lot of jobs.  But what Spain has now is a surplus of peak power generation during the day that doesn’t eliminate the need to maintain baseload power generation during the day.  Creating a surplus of electric power during the day no one wants.  While requiring power companies to maintain their baseload power during the day so they can provide power at night.  Incurring great costs on the power companies.  Which must be passed on to the same people who paid for the renewable energies subsidies.  The electric power consumer.

This is a classic example of a Hayekian malinvestment.  Friedrich Hayek of the Austrian school of economics said this is what happens when governments interfere with free markets.  They make investments to produce what they think is best while the market demands something else.  The market demanded low-cost electric power.  Which baseload power plants (coal and nuclear) provided.  But the government intervened and subsidized the more costly solar power.  This bad investment—or malinvestment—has only increased the cost of electric power for the Spanish consumer.  And now the Spanish have a big problem on their hands.  What to do with this surplus of peak power no one wants to pay for?  And how to replace the lost revenue of the power companies so they can cover their costs?  Two problems they didn’t have until the government intervened into the free market.

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Building Wind Farms for a Quick Buck despite Public Opposition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 17th, 2013

Week in Review

If you ever went hiking in a state park you’ve probably seen signs admonishing you to tread lightly.  To stay on paths only.  So as not to disturb the pristine environment.  Because environmentalists love this planet so much they will take all precaution to keep it pristine.  Except when it comes to putting these ugly things all over the place (see Locals get the wind up as turbines advance in Ireland by Geoffrey Lean posted 8/9/2013 on The Telegraph).

Some six per cent of the country’s electricity is now generated from the wind, and wind farms are a common sight in much of the country. In parts of inland West Cork, for example, it is rare to find a view that does not contain them, and there are places where four or five encircle you on surrounding hills. But so far there has been relatively little of the opposition to them that has become common on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Imagine that.  Only 6% of electricity comes from wind yet it’s rare to find a view without a wind turbine in it.  A much larger percentage of electricity comes from coal-fired power plants but it is a rare view indeed that includes a coal-fired power plant.  For they are much harder to find.

Angry scenes broke out last week at a “public information” meeting on plans to erect twelve 131 metre high turbines near the iconic mountain of Shehy More between the town and the upper Lee valley to the north. It would be visible for miles around in popular hiking territory and is, locals say, the third wind farm to be proposed in the last year for the hills around picturesque Loch Allua between the villages of Inchigeela and Ballingeary.

If everyone hates these turbines then why are they building so many?

Dave Edmond, of the appropriately named nearby alternative community of Coolmountain, led the revolt, accusing the wind industry of “just wanting a quick buck.” He added: “They have figured out how to get the grants and ‘shemoz’ the authorities” and predicted that the turbines would soon be “as obsolete and curious looking as the Easter island statues.”

Imagine that.  It’s greed.  In the form of fat government grants to build these white elephants to appease the global warming enthusiasts.  And they will become obsolete and curious.  As there are so many now that you can’t look in any direction without seeing one.  Yet they only provide 6% of their electricity.  Just imagine how many it will take to actually replace coal-fired power plants.  Probably so many that they will kill every living flying thing.  As no airspace will be free of these spinning killing machines.

Again, odd.  For someone who loves the environment so much to tread all over it.

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Australia’s Carbon Tax raised the Cost of Living so much that it’s hurting the Left’s Reelection Chances

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 20th, 2013

Week in Review

The political left says we need to stop global warming RIGHT NOW before it’s too late to save the planet.  And the children.  Of course they’ve been saying that we need to do something RIGHT NOW since the Nineties.  When global warming became all the rage.  Leaving poor old global cooling and the coming ice age it foretold behind in the ash heap of fear mongering.

Why the change?  Simple.  What can you do to prevent global cooling?  Force businesses to emit more carbon into the atmosphere?   To remove carbon scrubbing equipment from power plants?  To produce more of our electric power from coal-fired power plants and less from solar, wind and hydro?  Reduce business taxes to lower the cost of electric power?  Thus lowering electric utility costs to encourage people to use more?

As you can see these are all options that benefit taxpayers.  Not the government.  That’s why the 180-degree change from global cooling to global warming.  Because government can combat global warming.  By forcing businesses to emit less carbon into the atmosphere.  To add carbon-scrubbing equipment to power plants.  Produce more of our electric power from solar, wind and hydro (that the government can subsidize) and less from coal-fired power plants.  Raise the cost of electric power generation to encourage people to use less.  These things benefit the government.  Not the taxpayer.  For the whole purpose of fighting global warming is to transfer more wealth to the government.  So they have more money to spend (see Australia to scrap carbon tax for trading scheme by AFP posted 7/14/2013 on Yahoo! 7 News).

Key greenhouse gas emitter Australia on Sunday announced it will scrap its carbon tax in favour of an emissions trading scheme that puts a limit on pollution from 2014, a year earlier than planned.

The move is set to cost the government billions of dollars but Treasurer Chris Bowen said cuts would be made elsewhere to compensate with the Labor Party sticking to its plan to return the budget to surplus in 2015-2016.

Bowen confirmed media reports that the fixed Aus$24.15 ($21.90) per tonne carbon tax would be dumped in favour of a floating price of between Aus$6 and Aus$10 per tonne from July 1, 2014, to ease cost of living pressures for families and help support the non-mining sectors of the economy.

The political left in Australia implemented a carbon tax to save Australia from global warming.  Yet when they’re making changes in that program what is the BIG problem they have to address?  Billions of dollars of lost tax revenue.  As if they’re spending that money elsewhere.  On government pork.  Not just on subsidizing green energy.  Which makes the carbon tax not about saving the planet.  But about giving the government more money to spend.  As governments everywhere have an insatiable appetite to spend money.  So the carbon tax was a lie.  Surprise, surprise.

And how do you get billions of dollars in additional tax revenue in the first place?  By increasing the cost of living and business with more taxes.  People don’t like paying more taxes.  Politicians on the left understand that.  Which is why they lie during political campaigns.

Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard’s popularity sunk after she announced plans for the carbon tax in early 2011 — after pledging before her 2010 election that it would not be introduced by a government she led.

The policy backflip prompted protests around the country and conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, who opinion polls suggest will narrowly win the 2013 election, has vowed to abolish it.

Abbott on Sunday said the shift to 2014 was “just another Kevin con job”.

“Mr Rudd can change the name but whether it is fixed or floating it is still a carbon tax,” he said, adding that “it’s a bad tax, you’ve just got to get rid of it”.

Wherever you are in the world liberals make up a minority of the population.  So the only way they win elections is by lying.  President Clinton promised he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class.  But after he won the election he raised taxes on the middle class.  President Obama promised that he wouldn’t nationalize health care.  And within his first 2 years in office he signed the most sweeping health care bill into law.  Obamacare.  Which has put the U.S. onto the path to national health care.  And in Australia Julia Gillard promised she wouldn’t allow a carbon tax happen under her watch.  When she apparently planned to implement a carbon tax all along.  And just lied to the people.  Knowing that they never would have voted for her if she had told the truth.  That she intended to raise the cost of living for everyone.

Politicians lie.  Especially those on the left.  And yet they fool the people time and again.  Getting exactly what they want.  By going out of their way promising that they will never do what they always end up doing.  Clinton.  Obama.  Gillard.  They’re all the same.  They get what they want by saying one thing.  And then doing something completely different.

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The Europeans are moving away from Green Energy as President Obama moves toward Green Energy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2013

Week in Review

Europe had gone all in on the green energy bandwagon.  To save the world from catastrophic climate change brought about by manmade global warming.  But they paid a price.  They have increased the cost of electric power.  Which increased the cost of manufacturing.  Making them less competitive on the world markets.  Resulting in anemic economic growth.  And a sovereign debt crisis as tax revenues fell.

Their journey into green energy has been an unmitigated disaster.  They are now reversing course.  And climate change be damned.  If there ever was a problem to begin with.  For let’s face, what good did all of Europe’s green energy efforts do anyway?  The climate doomsayers are still warning us that we must act now before it’s too late.  So apparently whatever the Europeans did had no impact on the climate.  Only their economies (see Europe exits climate money pit as Obama jumps in by RON ARNOLD posted 6/27/2013 on the Washington Examiner).

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told me, “The centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan is a declaration of all-out war on coal. The only affordable way to reduce emissions from existing coal-fired power plants – which now provide 40 percent of the nation’s electricity – is to close them down…”

Ebell added that “Obama is pursuing his anti-energy agenda undemocratically through executive actions that bypass the people’s elected representatives in Congress.”

Autocrat Obama is also doing it without learning from the European Union’s green energy experience: skyrocketing energy prices, a ruinous slide into fuel poverty, solar panel financial meltdown, wind power bankruptcies and the specter of EU disintegration. As a result, the EU suffered an outbreak of realism.

In May, Europe’s heads of state and government at the EU Summit promoted shale gas and reduced energy prices. They would rather promote competition than stop global warming.

Obama just returned from Northern Ireland at the G8 meeting where he evidently didn’t ask why the United Kingdom removed climate change from the agenda.

European carbon markets had collapsed with the price of carbon hitting record lows, wrecking the European Union’s trading scheme for industrial CO2 emissions.

British Gas owner Centrica was buying up shale gas drilling rights in Lancashire for fracking operations. Green investors faced bankruptcy as Spain cut subsidies even further.

Large German companies such as Siemens and Bosch abandoned the solar industry, which had lost them billions, while investments in failed solar companies, including Q-Cells and SolarWorld, destroyed 21 billion euros of capital.

In response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a June energy conference in Berlin to expect reduced government spending on energy like wind and solar power to keep Germany economically competitive. Europe’s clean energy economy had become a black hole eating euros.

The United Kingdom is struggling to maintain their National Health Service (NHS) under the pressures of an aging population.  Fewer people are entering the workforce to pay taxes to fund the NHS.  While more people are leaving the workforce and consuming more and more NHS resources as they live longer into retirement than ever before.  A clarion call for anyone considering moving in the direction of a national health care system that also has an aging population.  Yet that is exactly what president Obama did during his first two years in office while the nation was suffering in the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Instead of cutting taxes to put people back to work he put into place massive tax hikes coming our way to fund Obamacare.  Learning nothing from the British.

Now he has an entire continent showing how wrong it is to pursue green energy.  And what does he do?  Ignores the Europeans completely and plunges headlong into the same foolish mistake they made.  Instead of cutting taxes to help put Americans back to work in the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression he plans on raising taxes on energy producers.  To fund green energy.  While increasing regulatory costs on good, dependable coal-fired power plants.  Which will increase the cost of electric power.  As well as the cost of doing business.  Not to mention the higher electric bills coming our way because of his desire to follow the Europeans down the dead-end road of Green Energy.

It’s as if the president is doing everything within his power to destroy the American economy.  Or he is completely clueless on how economies work.  He went to Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School.  So either these institutions are clueless on how economies work.  Or President Obama is purposely trying to destroy the American economy.  For someone or some institution is responsible for the president’s horrible economic policies.  They didn’t just happen.  There must be a method to this madness.  At least a reason for it.  Some reason for turning us into a failed European social democracy.

Of course, many believe that is the reason.  To turn us into a European social democracy.  To transform the country from the free market capitalism of the Founding Fathers into something closer to the state socialism favored by such anti-capitalists like Karl Marx.  Those on the left ridicule any such claims.  But Obamacare and this new Green Energy policy sure have more in common with socialism than capitalism.  As does the present anemic economy.

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President Obama directing Federal Regulators to increase our Electric Bills

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2013

Week in Review

President Obama couldn’t get Congress to pass a carbon tax (aka, cap and trade) into law to increase the cost of electric power.  So he is going to use his regulatory powers to increase the cost of electric power (see Obama directs EPA to end dumping of carbon from power plants by Steve Holland posted 6/25/2013 on Reuters).

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he is directing federal regulators to develop a plan to end the “limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from U.S. power plants.

Translation?  President Obama is directing federal regulators to increase the cost of your electric bill.

Carbon dumping?  They make it sound like these power plants are driving down country roads in the dead of night and pouring carbon out of barrels over the pristine wilderness.  But it’s just the smoke coming out of smokestacks.  Most of which is scrubbed clean these days.  Thanks to previous costly regulations.  What’s next?  Breathing tests to calculate how much carbon we dump each year?  So they can tax our breathing, too?  Because we exhale a greenhouse gas?  Of course, with Obamacare that won’t be so hard to do.  As the government will have their fingers in our medical records.

Beware buying your electric car.  That is, if you think it will be less costly than paying for very expensive gasoline.  First of all, one of the reasons why gasoline is so expensive is because of the taxes the government tacks on to the price per gallon.  Which is supposed to maintain our roads.  Of course that’s hard to see these days with our crumbling infrastructure.  They are collecting a ton of money.  But where it goes is another question.

Now that we have moved into more fuel efficient cars and electric cars and hybrids what is our thanks?  They want to put a black box in our car to track the miles we drive.  So they can tax us per mile.  Because we’re not buying enough gasoline to maintain the roads.  Or so they say.  So even though we’re saving money by buying less gas we’ll probably end up paying more to drive in the long run when they start taxing us per mile.  Giving electric car owners no advantage for sweating bullets wondering if they have enough charge to get home.  For they’ll be paying as if they are driving a big gas-guzzling car that gives them no range anxiety.  But all they’ll get is the range anxiety.  And it now will get worse.

Never buy gas again.  That’s what they told us.  And we shouted, “Hurrah!”  And, “Take that you greedy oil companies.”  While those who bought electric cars thought they would plug in anywhere for free.  But electric power isn’t free.  It costs.  You will see it in your electric bill as you plug in overnight.  You will see it when you have to swipe a card to use a charging station away from home.  And thanks to President Obama’s directing federal regulators to increase the cost of producing electric power you will see how costly driving an electric car can be.  Even when it buys no expensive gasoline from those greedy oil companies.

The tough fuel economy standards?  The hybrids?  The electric cars?  None of them were about us saving money.  It was about making us do things we didn’t want to do.  And now that we have what is our reward?  Higher electric bills.  And a lower standard of living.  As more of our paychecks will go to pay for the government’s intrusion into our private lives.

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Britain’s Secret to reducing the Carbon from their Electric Power Generation is Frequent Power Outages

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 18th, 2012

Week in Review

It’s pretty sad when a nation’s green energy policies requires an energy bill to ‘keep the lights on’.  But that’s precisely what’s happening in Britain.  Because they agreed to give up good, reliable electric power generation for something that may not be able to keep the lights on (see Energy Bill: The Plan To Keep UK’s Lights On by Gerard Tubb posted 11/18/2012 on Sky News).

The energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, has to balance the need to create new generating capacity with commitments to a low carbon future and more electricity from renewable sources.

Many power stations are coming to the end of their life and the Government estimates it will cost £110bn to replace and improve electricity infrastructure over the next decade…

Electricity use is increasing, with suggestions that demand could double by 2050…

The UK is signed up to providing 15% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and to reducing to zero the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere from electricity generation.

Electricity use is on pace to double by 2050 and the UK is decommissioning power plants and spending a fortune on electric generation from renewable sources.  Going from reliable power generation to intermittent power generation.  Which is nothing more than a step backward to a time before Margaret Thatcher.  And a return to the British Disease (strikes, industrial unrest and frequent power outages).  Or worse.  For the environmentalists would have Britain go back to the time of Stonehenge if they had their way.  A time when there was no electricity.  Or man-made carbon in the atmosphere.  Or indoor plumbing, air conditioning, refrigerators, telephones, etc.  Now that would make the environmentalists happy.  Abject misery for the human race.

Life was pretty precarious back in the 3rd century BC.  We’re lucky the human race survived to make it here today.  A time where life is not so precarious.  Thanks to technology.  Especially electricity.  Which helps keep our food safe, our water safe, our homes warm in the winter and allows hospitals to save lives.  Just look to the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy.  And how the loss of electric power took away safe food, safe water, warm homes and life-saving hospitals from the victims of that storm.

Electric power saves lives.  And makes those lives safer.  We should not be compromising our electric power to ‘save the world’ from global warming.  At least not until man-made carbon moves the glaciers as far as Mother Nature did during the Ice Ages.

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FT142: “Solar and wind power would take the longest to restore after a devastating weather event.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 2nd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night Stays the Production of Electric Power from Coal

What’s the best way to generate electric power?  This is not a trick question.  There is an answer.  And there is only one correct answer.  Coal.  A coal-fired power plant is the best way to generate electric power.  Coal-fired power plants can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  You never have to turn them off.  They can produce an enormous amount of power for the given infrastructure.  You can put these power plants anywhere.  Where it’s snowy and cold.  Where it’s bright and sunny.  Where it’s cloudy and rainy.  It doesn’t matter.  Coal-fired power plants are like the US Postal Service.  Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays the production of electric power from coal.

Coal is a highly concentrated form of energy.  Burning a little of it goes a long way.  This is why one coal-fired power plant can add over 2,000 megawatts to the electric grid.  And why about 600 coal-fired power plants can provide over half of our electric power needs.  Coal is one of the most abundant fuel sources in the world, too.  In fact, America has more coal than we can use.  This high domestic supply makes coal cheap.  Which is why coal-produced electric power is some of the cheapest electricity we have.

The only thing that will shut down a coal-fired power plant is running out of coal.  Which doesn’t happen easily.  Look around a power plant and you will see mountains of coal.  And conveyor systems that move that coal to the firebox that burns it.  You’ll probably see more coal arriving.  By unit train.  Trains with nothing but coal cars stretching a mile long.  By river barge.  Or Great Lakes freighter.  Making round-trip after round-trip from the coal mines to the power plants.  We’ve even built power plants near coal mines.  And fed those plants with coal on conveyor systems from the mines to the power plants.  Trains, barges and freighters use self-contained fuel to transport that coal.  And electric power energizes those conveyor systems.  Electric power that comes from the power plant.  Making it difficult to interrupt that flow of coal to our power plants.  Onsite stockpiles of coal can power the plant during brief interruptions in this coal flow.  When the lakes freeze they can get their coal via train.  And if there is a train wreck or a track washout they can reroute trains onto other tracks.  Finally, coal-fired power plants are least dependent on other systems.  Whereas a natural gas-fired power plant is dependent on the natural gas infrastructure (pipelines, pumps, valves, pressure regulators, etc.).  If that system fails so do the natural gas-fired power plants.

Solar Panels produce low DC Currents and Voltages that we have to Convert to AC to Connect them to the Electric Grid

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays the production of electric power from coal.  But they sure can interrupt solar power.  Which won’t produce much power if there is snow or rain or night.  Giving it one of the lowest capacity factors.  Meaning that you get a small fraction of useful power from the installed capacity.  Wind power is a little better.  But sometimes the wind doesn’t blow.  And sometimes it blows too strong.  So wind power is not all that reliable either.  Hydroelectric power is more reliable.  But sometimes the rains don’t come.  And if there isn’t enough water behind a hydroelectric dam they have to take some generators offline.  For if they draw down the water level too much the water level behind the dam will be below the inlet to the turbines.  Which would shut off all the generators.

Of course, hydroelectric dams often have reservoirs.  These fill with water when the rains come.  So they can release their water to raise the water level behind a dam when the rains don’t come.  These reservoirs are, then, stored electric power.  For a minimal cost these can store a lot of electric power.  But it’s not an endless supply.  If there is a prolonged draught (or less snow in the mountains to melt and run off) even the water level in the reservoirs can fall too low to raise the water level behind the dam high enough to reach the water inlets to the turbines.

Storing electric power is something they can do with solar power, too.  Only it’s a lot more complex.  And a lot more costly.  Solar panels produce low DC currents and voltages.  Like small batteries in our flashlights.  So they have to have massive arrays of these solar panels connected together.  Like multiple batteries in a large flashlight.  They have to convert the DC power to AC power to connect it to the grid.  With some complicated and costly electronics.  And any excess power these solar arrays produce that they don’t feed into the grid they can store in a battery of batteries.  And as we know from the news on our electric cars, current battery technology does not hold a lot of charge.  Barely enough to drive a 75 mile round-trip.  So you’d need a lot of batteries to hold enough useful power to release into the grid after the sun goes down.

Storms like Sandy would wipe out Solar Arrays and Wind Farms with their High Winds and Storm Surges

When a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan in 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered no damage.  Then the storm surge came.  Flooding the electrical equipment with highly conductive and highly corrosive seawater.  Shorting out and destroying that electrical equipment.  Shutting down the reactor cooling pumps.  Leading to a partial reactor core meltdown.  Proving what great damage can result when you mix water and electric equipment.  Especially when that water is seawater.

Hurricane Sandy hammered the Northeastern seaboard.  High winds and a storm surge destroyed cities and neighborhoods, flooded subway tunnels and left tens of millions of people without power.  And they may be without power for a week or more.  Restoring that power will consist primarily of fixing the electric grid.  To reconnect these homes and businesses to the power plants serving the electric grid.  They don’t have to build new power plants.  Now if these areas were powered by solar and wind power it would be a different story.  First of all, they would have lost power a lot earlier as the driving rains and cloud cover would have blocked out most of the sun.  The high winds would have taken the windmills offline.  For they shut down automatically when the winds blow too hard to prevent any damage.  Of course, the high winds and the storm surge would probably have damaged these as well as the power lines.  While shorting out and destroying all of that electronic equipment (to convert the DC power to AC power) and the battery storage system

So instead of just installing new power lines they would have to install new windmills, solar arrays, electronic equipment and storage batteries.  Requiring long manufacturing times.  Then time to transport.  And then time to install.  At a far greater cost than just replacing downed wires.  Leaving people without electric power for weeks.  Perhaps months.  Or longer.  This is why using coal-fired power plants is the best way to generate electric power.  They’re less costly.  Less fragile.  And less complicated.  You just don’t need such a large generating infrastructure.  Whereas solar arrays and wind farms would cover acres of land.  And water (for the wind farms).  And storms like Sandy could wipe these out with their high winds and storm surges.

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Coal Mines, Steam Engine, Electric Motor, Coal-Fired Power Plants, Water Pumps, Ventilation Fans, Strip Mining, Draglines and Coal Washing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 12th, 2012

Technology 101

The Steam Engine pumped Water from Mines allowing them to go Deeper as they followed Veins of Coal

Petroleum is the lifeblood of advanced economies.  It propels our airplanes, ships, trains, trucks, ambulances, air ambulances, fire trucks, cars, etc.  It moves everything.  Our sick and injured.  Our families.  Our food.  Our goods.  The raw materials that build the world we live in.  You would not recognize the world if we removed petroleum from it.  There would be no aviation.  No emergency vehicles that could respond in minutes.  No family car.  But we could still have ships and trains.  Because before petroleum there was coal.

Before the Industrial Revolution we used animals to move people and things.  We were using fuels for other things.  But not to move people and goods.  Until there was a problem getting that fuel.  The British were mining coal near the coast.  But there was a problem.  As the coal veins they mined moved under the sea they filled with water.  Limiting how far they could follow those veins.  They had a pump.  Driven by a crude steam engine.  But it just didn’t do the job very well.  Until a man came along and improved it.  James Watt.  Who improved that crude steam engine.  And changed the world.

The steam engine pumped water from coal mines allowing them to go deeper as they followed veins of coal.  But the steam engine had other uses.  They could power a drive shaft in a factory.  Allowing us to build factories anywhere.  Not just by moving water that drove a waterwheel.  And using a steam engine to move a train allowed us to connect these factories with other factories.  And to the stores in the cites that bought the things they built.  Steam-powered tractors replaced the horse and plow on the farm.  While steam locomotives brought coal from distant coal mines to our homes we burned for heat.  Coal was everywhere.  We had a coal-based economy.  And a coal-based life.  The more we used the more we had to mine.  Thanks to the coal-fired steam engine we could mine a lot of it.  And did.  It powered the Industrial Revolution.  And powers our modern economy today.  Because coal even powers the engines that replaced the steam engines in our factories.

The two largest Electrical Loads in a Coal Mine are the Water Pumps and the Ventilation Fans

We’ve replaced the steam engines in our factories with the electric motor.  Instead of having a main drive shaft through the factory and a system of belts and pulleys we put an electric motor at each workstation.  And connected it to the electric grid.  Greatly increasing our productivity.  And the electric power to drive these electric motors came predominantly from coal-fired power plants.  Coal has never been more important in the modern economy.  It provides about half of all electric power.  Followed by natural gas and nuclear power at about 20% each (though natural gas is on the rise).  Hydroelectric dams provide less than 10% of our electric power.  And everything else provides less than 5%.

Just as the steam engine made mining more efficient so did electric power.  Mines can go deeper because electric pumps can more efficiently pump water out of the mines.  And large fans can circulate the air underground so miners can breathe.  As well as disperse any buildups of methane gas or coal dust.  Before they can explode.  Which is one of the hazards of mining a flammable and, at times, explosive material.  The hazard is so real that you will not find ventilation fans inside the mine.  You’ll find water pumps deep in the mines.  But not the ventilation fans.  Because if there is a fire or an explosion underground they’ll need to protect those fans from damage so they will still be able to ventilate the mine.  For if the mine fills with smoke surviving a fire or an explosion will matter little if you cannot breathe.

The two largest electrical loads in a coal mine are the water pumps and the ventilation fans.  Mines consume enormous amounts of electric power.  And most of it goes to fighting the water seepage that will fill up a mine if not pumped out.  And making the mines habitable.  Electric power also runs the hoists that haul the coal to the surface.  Transports miners to and from the mines.  And runs the mining equipment in a confined space without any hazardous fumes.  As critical as this electric power is to survive working in such an unfriendly environment more times than not the power they use comes from a coal-fired power plant.  A plant they feed with the very coal they mine.  Because it’s dependable.  That electric power will always be there.

Coal will always let you Charge your Electric Car Overnight and Surf the Web in the Morning

But we just don’t mine coal underground.  We also dig it up from the surface.  With strip mining.  Most of the coal we use today comes from great strip mines out West.  Where they use mammoth machines called draglines to scrape away soil to get to the coal.  And then they scrape out the coal.  These machines are as big as ships and actually have crew quarters inside them.  They even name them like ships.  They operate kind of like a fishing rod with a few minor differences.  Instead of a rod there is a boom.  Instead of nylon fishing line there is a steel cable up to two inches in diameter.  And instead of a hook there is a bucket big enough to hold a 2-car garage.  The operator ‘throws’ the bucket out by running it out along the boom.  Then drops it in the dirt.  Then drags the bucket back.  The massive scale of the dragline requires an enormous amount of power.  And the power of choice?  Electric power.  Often produced by the very coal they mine.  Some of these machines have electric cables even bigger around than the cables that drag their buckets.  At voltages of 10,000 to 25,000 volts.  Drawing up to 2,000 amps.

These draglines can mine a lot of coal.  But it’s a lower-quality coal than some of our eastern coal.  Which has a higher energy content.  But eastern coal also has a higher sulfur content.  Which requires more costs to make it burn cleaner.  In fact, before any coal ships today we wash it to remove slate as well as other waste rock from the coal.  And it is in this waste rock where we find much of the sulfur.  So the washing makes the coal burn cleaner.  As well as raise the energy content for a given quantity of coal by removing the waste that doesn’t burn.  There are a few ways they do this.  But they all involve water.  Therefore, at the end of the process they have to dry the coal by spinning it in a large cylindrical centrifuge.  So a lot happens to coal between digging it out of the ground and loading it on a unit train (a train carrying only one type of cargo) bound to some power plant.  And chances are that it will go to a power plant.  For our coal-fired power plants buy about 80% or so of all coal mined.  So if you see a coal train it is probably en route to a coal-fired power plant.

Coal created the modern world.  And it powers it to this day.  From the first steam engines that dewatered mines to the coal-fired power plants that power the massive server farms that hold the content of the World Wide Web.  Yes, coal even powers the Internet.  As well as our electric cars.  For only coal will be able to meet the electric demand when everyone starts plugging their car into the electric grid overnight.  Because solar power doesn’t work at night.  And wind power is even less reliable.  For if it’s a still night you’ll have no charge to drive to work in the morning.  But if you plugged into coal you’ll always be able to charge your electric car overnight.  And surf the web in the morning.

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Inrush Current, Redundancy, Electric Grid, High Voltage Transmission Lines, Substations, Generators and Northeast Blackout of 2003

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 22nd, 2012

Technology 101

In Electric Generators and Motors there is a Tradeoff between Voltage and Current

If you have central air conditioning you’ve probably noticed something when it turns on.  Especially at night.  The lights will momentarily dim.  Why?  Because a central air conditioner is probably the largest electric load in your house.  It draws a lot of current.  Even at 240V volts.  And when it switches on the inrush of current is so great that it sucks current away from everything else.  This momentary surge of current exceeds your electrical panel’s ability to keep up with it. Try as it might the panel cannot push out enough current.  It tries so hard that it loses its ‘pushing’ strength and its voltage fades.  But once the air conditioner runs the starting inrush of current settles down to a lower running current that the panel can easily provide.  And it recovers its strength.  Its voltage returns to normal.  And all the lights return to normal brightness.

If you have ever been stopped by a train at a railroad crossing you’ve seen another example of this voltage-current tradeoff.  As a diesel-electric locomotive starts moving you’ll see plumes of diesel exhaust puffing out of the engine.  Why?  The diesel engine drives a generator.  The generator drives electric traction motors that turn the engine’s wheels.  These traction motors are like turning on a very large air conditioner.  The inrush of current sucks current out of the generator and makes the voltage fall.  The load on the engine is so great that it slows down while it struggles to supply that current.

To prevent the engine from stalling more fuel is pumped into the engine to increase engine RPMs.  Like stomping on the accelerator in a car.  Causing those plumes of diesel exhaust.  As the wheels start turning the current in the motor windings creates a counter electromotive force (the electric field collapses on the windings inducing a current in the opposite direction).  Which resists the current flow.  Current falls.  And the voltage goes back up.  If the engine is pushed beyond its operating limits, though, it will shut down to protect itself.  Bring the locomotive to a standstill wherever it is.  Even if it’s blocking all traffic at a railroad crossing.

Generators have to be Synchronized First before Connecting to the Electric Grid

The key to reliable electric power is redundancy.  To understand electrical redundancy think about driving your car.  Your normal route to work is under construction.  And the road is closed.  What do you do?  You take a different road.  You can do this because there is road redundancy.  In fact there are probably many different ways you can drive to work.  The electric grid provides the roads for electric power to travel.  Bringing together power plants.  Substations.  And conductors.  Interconnecting you to the various power plants connected to the grid.

Electric power leaves power plants on high voltage overhead transmission lines.  These lines can travel great distances with minimal losses.  But the power is useless to you and me.  The voltage is too high.  So these high voltage lines connect to substations.  Typically two of these high voltage feeders (two cable sets of three conductors each) connect to a substation.  Coming out of these substations are more conductors (cable sets of three conductors each) that feed loads at lower voltages.  In between the incoming feeders and the outgoing feeders are a bunch of switches and transformers.  To step down the voltage.  And to allow an outbound set of conductors to be switched to either of the two incoming feeders.  So if one of the incoming feeders goes down (for maintenance, cable failure, etc.) the load can switch over to the other inbound cable set.

Redundant power feeds to these substations can come from larger substations upstream.  Even from different power plants.  And all of these power plants can connect to the grid.  Which ultimately connects the output of different generators together.  This is easier said than done.  Current flows between different voltages.  The greater the voltage difference the greater the current flow.  Our power is an alternating current.  It is a reciprocating motion of electrons in the conductors.  Which makes connecting two AC sources together tricky.  Because they have to move identically.  They have to be in phase and move back and forth in the conductors at the same time.  Currents have to leave the generator at the same time.  And return at the same time.  If they do then the voltage differences between the phases will be zero.  And no current will flow between the power plants.  Instead it will all go into the grid.  If they are not synchronized when connected there will be voltage difference between the phases causing current to flow between the power stations.  With the chance of causing great damage.

The Northeast Blackout of 2003 started from one 345 kV Transmission Line Failing

August 14, 2003 was a hot day across the Midwest and the Northeast.  People were running their air conditioners.  Consuming a lot of electric power.  A 345 kV overhead transmission line in Northeast Ohio was drawing a lot of current to feed that electric power demand.  The feeder carried so much current that it heated up on that hot day.  And began to sag.  It came into contact with a tree.  The current jumped from the conductor to the tree.  And the 345 kV transmission line failed.  Power then switched over automatically to other lines.  Causing them to heat up, sag and fail.  As more load was switched onto fewer lines a cascade of failures followed.

As lines overloaded and failed power surged through the grid to rebalance the system.  Currents soared and voltages fell.  Power raced one way.  Then reversed and raced the other way when other lines failed.  Voltages fell with these current surges.  Generators struggled to provide the demanded power.  Some generators sped up when some loads disconnected from the grid.  Taking them out of synch with other generators.  Generators began to disconnect from the grid to protect themselves from these wild fluctuations.  And as they went off-line others tried to pick up their load and soon exceeded their operating limits.  Then they disconnected from the grid.  And on and on it went.  Until the last failure of the Northeast blackout of 2003 left a huge chunk of North America without any electric power.  From Ontario to New Jersey.  From Michigan to Massachusetts.  All started from one 345 kV transmission line failing.

In all about 256 power plants went off-line.  As they were designed to do.  Just like a diesel locomotive engine shutting down to protect itself.  Generators are expensive.  And they take a lot of time to build.  To transport.  To install.  And to test, start up and put on line.  So the generators have many built-in safeguards to prevent any damage.  Which was part of the delay in restoring power.  Especially the nuclear power plants.  Restoring power, though, wasn’t just as easy as getting the power plants up and running again.  All the outgoing switches at all those substations had to be opened first before reenergizing those incoming feeders.  Then they carefully closed the outgoing switches to restore power while keeping the grid balanced.  And to prevent any surges that may have pulled a generator out of synch.  It’s a complicated system.  But it works.  When it’s maintained properly.  And there is sufficient power generation feeding the grid.

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